I blinked and suddenly it's fall, I'm back at work, and Hope is 4 months old. Where oh where did maternity leave and the summer go? Since I somehow missed doing several monthly recaps, we're going to take July - September in one fell swoop.
What I'm Reading:
I read 11 fiction books during the last three months. Of them, my favorites included:
We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I'm surprised at how many reviews I've read of this book that have panned it, saying it did not live up to Diffenbaugh's first book, The Language of Flowers, which I LOVED. I disagree. I thought We Never Asked for Wings was a stunning book about a difficult topic: Illegal immigration.
The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward. As with We Never Asked for Wings, The Same Sky is about illegal immigration. It was a captivating story suitable for high school teens as well as adults. Although I was slightly disappointed by it's ending, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.
800 Grapes by Laura Dave. Perhaps best classified as a beach read, I found 800 Grapes both entertaining and at times profound with it's insights about family dynamics.
I also read 9 non-fiction books during the last three months, including Adventures in Saying Yes by Carl Medearis, Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider, Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber, For the Love by Jen Hatmaker, and Unlocking Mission & Eschatology in Youth Ministry by Andrew Root.
Things I Love:
Family Vacations: When Hope was just 6 weeks old, we took our first family vacation. We rented a cabin on an interior lake in Michigan near Kalamazoo. It was perfect for our first vacation with a newborn. While there, we enjoyed relaxing in addition to the Kalamazoo Zoo and AirZoo (Doug was certainly in his happy place there!) We also took a trip to Saugatuck to stock up on American Spoon Foods (Yum!)
Celebrating our 13th Anniversary: Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Nelson's willingness to watch Hope, we enjoyed a delicious dinner OUT at Wildfire!
Fresh raspberries from the garden: We LOVED eating delicious raspberries from the garden this summer. I even discovered two new family favorites: Raspberry Buckle (above) and Molten Cupcakes with raspberries in the center.
Introducing Hope to the Great Grandparents: We took Hope to Jacksonville mid-July in order to meet the Great Grandparents. Introducing her to Great Grandpa Elmer & Great Grandma Laura was such an incredible moment for us! While in Jacksonville, Grandpa Keith & Grandma Nancy watched Hope so we could see Uncle Ken's musical, Genesis. It was, of course, fantastic.
Returning to Work: I am so grateful for the maternity leave I received from my church. That said, I was very ready to return to work. My first Sunday back, I had the joy of playing the piano in worship as a sub for our music director, Todd.
Attending Conferences: My second week back at work, my boss and I attended the Rethinking Confirmation conference at Luther Seminary. In order to make that possible, Doug and Hope came along. Let me tell you, conferencing with a newborn is NOT for the faint of heart but I'm SO glad I did it. One thing that certainly made the experience more enjoyable was a suite with a kitchen in a nearby hotel.
Taking Hope swimming: We are currently operating under the assumption that early childhood attachments matter (ask us in 20 years whether or not that's true.) To that end, when we found out that our hotel at the Rethinking Confirmation workshop had a pool, we decided to take Hope swimming. As you can tell from the picture, she wasn't quite sure what to think about that experience. It certainly wasn't the spa-like bath experience she's grown accustomed to.
Introducing Auntie Ally & Uncle Dave to Hope: Doug's brother and sister-in-law came for a visit at the end of July. We loved introducing them to Hope, taking them to one of our favorite local places (the Morton Arboretum) to see the lego exhibit and of course, dining at Fire and Wine.
Saying Good-Bye to Leaders: I don't actually LOVE saying good-bye to adult leaders in our youth ministry BUT I certainly LOVE my adult leaders. At the start of August, we said good-bye to one of our leaders who relocated to St. Paul.
Investing in Student Leaders: One of my favorite parts of my job is investing in my student leadership team. At the start of August, we held a retreat for these leaders during which we attended a local picnic for refugees, visited Willow Creek Community Church to learn about welcoming, brainstormed our topics for our upcoming discussions, discussed the book we're reading together, and ate breakfast with other leaders in our congregation who serve on Church Council.
Flying with Hope: In August, we flew to Nashville so I could attend my last Youth Ministry Coaching Cohort. Hope did super well on the flight. We nursed on the take-off and landing and she slept for the short while in between. Tennessee was the 6th state Hope has visited (after Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota). Not bad for a 10-week old!
The Youth Cartel's Youth Ministry Coaching Program: In Nashville, I attended my last coaching cohort. This was a fantastic experience that I highly recommend. Here's my official endorsement:
Since finishing grad school, I've been looking for a meaningful way to invest my continuing education budget. The Youth Cartel's Youth Ministry Coaching Program was the perfect option for me. Through assigned reading and homework, ongoing intensive meetings with others in ministry, personal coaching, and spiritual direction, I certainly grew as a leader. Beyond that, however, the Youth Ministry Coaching Program nourished my spirit and soul, encouraging and challenging me as a youth pastor, new mom, and follower of Jesus. Participating in the Youth Ministry Coaching Program was a wise investment that will continue to bear fruit in my life and ministry.
Slip 'N Slide Kickball: This was definitely the "in" game of the summer in the youth ministry world but after playing it, I can see why! My teens had an absolute blast!
Writing: I spent many days writing with Hope balanced precariously on my lap. The result? A finished manuscript for The Jesus Gap Devotional for Teens. Stay tuned for updates on it's release!
Visiting with College Students: There was about a week towards the end of the summer when I met with college kids non-stop. What a blessing it is to be able to catch up with them & see how God continues to be at work in their lives!
Celebrating birthdays and anniversaries: We celebrated my parents' 44th anniversary and my 35th birthday at the end of August.
Baptizing Hope: Hope was baptized at Faith on August 30. It was a beautiful, meaningful day and celebration.
Labor Day Trip to Jacksonville: Doug's mom had major, unexpected surgery at the end of August. We were thrilled to see her doing better when we visited Jacksonville Labor Day weekend. While there, we also enjoyed the time with Grandpa Elmer and Grandma Laura.
Exploring Chicago: Doug's company, 8th Light, hosted a company event on September 11. We enjoyed a Sea Dog cruise along the Chicago River, dinner at Bubba Gump's, and a spin on the ferris wheel.
Visiting Refugees for God's Work, Our Hands: On September 13, my congregation joined with many others in the ELCA to serve. I, along with several others in our congregation, went and visited a local refugee family to learn their story. I particularly enjoyed watching their kids interact with my daughter.
The resumption of weekly youth ministry gatherings: After taking the summer off of programming, I was excited to resume our weekly youth ministry programs mid-September. Our first Wednesday night series of the year has been on "isms". Through it, we've had some thoughtful discussions about materialism, patriotism, and sexism.
Fall fires: Nothing says fall to me more than wrapping up in a blanket, sitting by the fire, and roasting s'mores. It's just heavenly.
Donating our Sentra: Last spring, we decided to experiment with going down to one car. Eventually, we decided that doing so was quite feasible for us. So we stopped driving our Sentra but it still sat in our garage. We finally took it to World Relief and donated it to their refugee ministry.
Visits from Grandma and Grandpa: One of the great blessings of parenthood has been watching our parents become grandparents. We love seeing my parents with Hope every Tuesday, when they watch her while I'm at work. We also relish our visits with Doug's parents.
Today I'm linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I'm into. You can join the conversation here.